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The Tower

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I honestly don’t know how my partner did it. He’s afraid of heights, but he went up that tower like he’d been walking high steel all his life. And he was being shot at while he climbed. I tried to keep up with him but he seemed possessed.

Ever since Helen was killed, he’d been on a tear. He didn’t admit it, but I think he blamed himself for her having lost her job with the department. Absenteeism, insubordination and drunkenness didn’t sound like the woman he’d known well enough to talk about marriage and having kids with. After they broke up, though, neither of us knew what might have happened to her, during the months since, to have her end up as a go-go dancer at the Mellow Yellow.

Cindy, her roommate, told us Helen had hinted that she might have made a mistake when she broke up with Starsky. That, and the picture Cindy showed us, really hit my partner hard. I could tell it was going to take some time before Starsky got over her loss.

We went to see Polly, who truly had gone crackers, and he put us on the trail of Commander Jim of the Airwaves, whose real name was James March Wrightwood. He was a former inmate, with Polly, of the San Leone institution for the criminally insane.

We interviewed the suspect at his workplace, but he assured us he was following all the rules and hadn’t done anything wrong. He seemed docile and placid so we left him there with his welding torch.

On our way back to the station, Starsky told me about the aluminum foil under Wrightwood’s pant legs. That bit of information had both of us shaking our heads.

So we were back to square one, until Dobey told us Helen had never left the force, that she’d been under cover at the Mellow Yellow, trying to get the goods on a gang of thieves.

We concentrated on that angle and even caught them in the act. However, as soon as I saw the look on Solenko’s stocking-mask-covered face, as he realized that Helen had been a cop, I knew we were the ones on the wrong track.

When another girl was found, mutilated and bound up in television antenna wire, Starsky put his finger on it immediately. “What we are lookin’ for is a psycho killin’ cocktail waitresses.”

As soon as I got confirmation that the newest victim’s car radio had all its buttons set on the same station Helen’s car radio had been set on, Starsky and I figured we’d been right to begin with.

Commander Jim wasn't home in his foil-shielded place, though, so we visited the head shrink at San Leone and questioned him about Wrightwood. We could barely keep from flattening that self-righteous, test-scores-spouting idiot before he gave us the information we needed. He told us Wrightwood hung out at KLOW.

The mentally ill man had taken yet another scantily-clad victim to the roof of the radio station and we heard her screams long before we got close to them.

My partner kept Jim’s attention riveted on him while I got the terrorized girl to better cover. I was amazed at how calm Starsky sounded as he described the special room he and Polly had designed - a lead-lined place where Jim would be safe from the waves from Alpha Centauri; a place where Jim would be happy.

Wrightwood was obviously beyond listening to reason. He pulled off two shots from his rifle, before scrambling toward the tower.

As soon as I felt the girl would be safe, I rushed to cover Starsky.

Wrightwood began to climb the ladder at the corner of the steel framework. Without a thought, Starsky went after him, continuing to plead with the man to let us help him. I’d never heard Starsky try so hard to keep someone alive.

I was slightly below them, on the west corner of the structure, when Wrightwood fell. I think he’d been reaching for Starsky’s outstretched hand, but I can’t be sure. The look in Starsky’s eyes, when he finally met my stare, said volumes. He had tried, but it hadn’t been enough.

I climbed up to him and discovered he was shaking. He didn’t say a word when I asked if he was okay, so I knew he wasn’t ready, yet, to talk about any of it. As we made our cautious way down, I simply chattered about contacting Dobey, calling the crime scene team and the coroner, and making sure the still-crying woman was okay. That seemed to be the best approach I could take.

We’d never had the chance to ask Wrightwood why he had killed Helen and the other woman, and now we never could. Some cases left huge holes in both of us, and I was afraid this was going to be one of those.

I knew Starsky’d get past the guilt, eventually. In the meantime, I’d be there to help him any way I could.

A thought lit the proverbial light bulb in my head: I’d call Starsky’s mother and ask her what her son’s favorite meal was. Maybe, just maybe that would lighten the load I knew he was carrying.

 

END